Thursday, March 6, 2014

Hannibal Season Premiere Review: "Kaiseki" - Starting Strong

Will Graham goes to happy place in "Hannibal"

Friday night’s episode of NBC’s Hannibal was a marvelous opening to the show’s sophomore season.  I already had Hannibal in my Top Ten for 2013, but I feel very comfortable in declaring that it is my favorite show of the year thus far.  Yes, I’m aware that it’s only March, but sometimes a show hits you in such a way that you just know something special is going on.  ESPN sports columnist Bill Simmons has written extensively about what he calls “The Leap”: the moment when an athlete (usually an NBA basketball player) takes his game up a level, transcending “good” to become a truly great player.  I feel like that’s what we saw last night.  Hannibal decided that being merely a very good show wasn’t good enough.  They wanted to make a play for being the best show on television.

In media res openings are all the rage these days, but so often they’re used to inject tension into otherwise dull proceedings.  Here, though, the flash-forward serves a different purpose.  We know the story of Hannibal Lecter.  We know how this is going to go.  Will Graham is not going to stay in the mental hospital.  Lecter will not remain in the FBI’s good graces.  At some point, the two men’s roles will be reversed and it will be Hannibal in custody.  We know all this; it’s a matter of when, not if (assuming the show lasts that long, anyway). 

So it was fiendishly clever to open this season with a knock-down, drag-out fight between Lecter and Jack Crawford.  Not only does it provide a spark for the year, it gives narrative propulsion for the next twelve episodes.  They wisely don’t tell us exactly when the fight will take place, just that it will be “twelve weeks” from now.  But we know the reckoning is coming.  And that’s not even discussing the epic staging of the fight itself.  Mads Mikkelsen and Laurence Fishburne are two incredibly imposing men, physically speaking, and the episode used that physicality beautifully in the fight, with both men literally throwing their weight around.  Sure, there was some improvised weapon use, but this felt like a real brawl between two large men in a confined space.

Honestly, this episode was so chock full of great moments and scenes that I wouldn’t have even needed a new serial killer to enter the game.  Will’s “mind palace” or “anywhere but here” or whatever you want to call his fishing hole was beautifully shot and a nice representation of what his mind is capable of when he’s not recreating crime scenes with it.  I also appreciated his utter contempt for Dr. Chilton.  They’re playing Chilton far more earnestly here than he is usually portrayed and I can see some good humor coming from just putting these two men in a room together for a few minutes every episode.

Most fascinating, though, is Lecter’s response to the status quo.  He’s won.  He’s gotten away with dozens of murders and managed to frame Will Graham for their commission.  And yet he seems lost.  He’s slotted himself into Will’s role in the FBI, yet can’t really contribute anything to the investigation (which Will manages to crack fairly quickly).  He’s visiting Will in the hospital and leaving his therapy time open only to stare at an empty chair, apparently desperate to have the kind of connection and co-dependency he had with Will.  It seems that for Lecter, the thrill of the kill and experiencing police work vicariously through Will were far more pleasurable pursuits than having to subsume his murderous instincts and take on the role of investigator himself.  Clearly Lecter isn’t going to be able to keep his id in check all season long, but it will be interesting to see how he handles this new life.

Ultimately, “Kaiseki,” is really just a table-setting episode, establishing where our characters are now and setting up a new villain who will apparently be around for at least one more episode, if not longer.  What makes the episode so remarkable, then, is just how enthralling it was for an introduction.  Not a great deal happens, but Hannibal is able to pull such tension and drama out of conversation that I just could not stop watching.

A couple of spare thoughts –

I apologize for the lateness of this review.  I tried multiple times to write this this past weekend and couldn’t quite figure out how to say what I wanted.  Future reviews should come in on Saturday or Sunday, though this next week’s could be delayed again due to family stuff.

This season’s episode titles are based on the traditional Japanese multi-course dinner of Kaiseki.  I don’t particularly care too much about episode titles, but it’s nice to see them find something to tie all the episodes together.

I’d love to see more of Hettienne Park as Dr. Katz.  Her scene with Will at the asylum was just electric, even if it was just the two of them talking over mugshots.

So thoughts?  Comments?  Just want to tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.

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